“Let’s Escape To Jamaica” Transcript
Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe and I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Each week, we talk to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food. First, let's thank our sponsor, Handsome Brook Farm pasture raised, organic eggs. Handsome Brook Farm's secret to making rich, flavorful eggs is simple. The most possible space, the best possible feed, and lots of love. It's a healthy and humane recipe that makes your omelets, cakes, custards, and everything in between taste better. To learn more and to find their eggs, visit handsomebrookfarm.com.
Kerry Diamond: Today's show is all about good vibes because the Rousseau sisters are here. Michelle and Suzanne are chefs, restaurateurs, and writers, and they're joining us to talk about their life in Jamaica and their brand new cookbook. Called Provisions, it features 150 vegetarian recipes influenced by the different Caribbean cuisines. But it's also a look at the complicated history of food in Jamaica, and an exploration of the forgotten women from the Rousseau family tree, including their very unique great-grandmother. The night before this interview, Michelle and Suzanne and I had dinner at the Beatrice Inn, Chef Angie Mar's restaurant, and we had a great time. I'm so happy to welcome the Rousseau sisters back to Radio Cherry Bombe.
Suzanne Rousseau: Hi, I'm Suzanne Rousseau.
Michelle Rousseau: And I'm Michelle Rousseau. We like hanging out with the Bombers.
Suzanne Rousseau: The Bombesquad.
Michelle Rousseau: The Bombesquad.
Kerry Diamond: Before we get started, let's hear a word from our sponsor, Handsome Brook Farm pastured raised, organic eggs. Handsome Brook Farm believes that organic and pastured is the way to go when it comes to eggs. Pasture raised means better lives for hens, better lives for small farmers, and better eggs for you. It's also better for chefs who depend on rich, flavorful eggs. Handsome Brook Farm's own flock of amazing chefs, their mother hens, count on it. Einat Admony is a mother hen. She's also the celebrated chef behind Taïm, Balaboosta, and Kish-Kash in Manhattan. Want to learn how chef Einat whips up a mini herb omelet with cilantro, parsley, and turmeric at home? Or maybe you'd like to make her red shakshuka, an aromatic spicy tomato sauce into which she nestles eggs and lets them poach to perfection.
Kerry Diamond: You can find Chef Einat's Middle Eastern eggcentric recipes and videos on handsomebrookfarm.com. You can find Handsome Brook Farm organic, pasture raised eggs at Publix, Kroger, Sprouts Farmer Market, Fresh Direct, and many natural food stores across the country. Here's my conversation with the Rousseau sisters.
Kerry Diamond: We had a great night.
Michelle Rousseau: Oh, it was a great night.
Suzanne Rousseau: Such a good time.
Michelle Rousseau: So wonderful.
Suzanne Rousseau: I had such a good time.
Kerry Diamond: The only thing that was missing was ... Angie Mar?
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, I would say-
Suzanne Rousseau: In her hardcore vibes place. The vibes were just so hardcore.
Michelle Rousseau: I suspect if Angie Mar was there, though, we may not have gotten home when we did.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, 100 percent.
Michelle Rousseau: May have been a later night.
Kerry Diamond: Exactly, exactly. But how good was that food?
Michelle Rousseau: Oh, it was delicious.
Suzanne Rousseau: Oh my God. And then I posted some pictures and ten million people wrote back, "Oh my God, the food and the champagne." I'm like, "Girl."
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. We were at Angie Mar's, the Beatrice Inn, last night ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Mm-hmm (affirmative), insane.
Kerry Diamond: ... and we had the burgers because the last time I was there Angie gave me grief because I had never had the burger. The burger is all that.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: But the plum tart.
Suzanne Rousseau: Jen and I were saying, "If I had to do it over again, maybe I would have just only had that." It was so incredible.
Michelle Rousseau: And then the crust was just- I said to Suzanne just today, I said it felt like old world crust. There must be beef sweet or something in there because it had that crunch at the bottom. It was so good, very delicious.
Kerry Diamond: It's so funny you said vibes because my first question is, yesterday, the two of you more than once said, "Vibes, vibes". What do you mean when you say vibes?
Suzanne Rousseau: In Jamaica, and in the Caribbean at large, if someone or something has great energy- a party for example. When you say the party have vibes, means it's rocking. If someone has vibes, it means that they have great energy or there's just something, that je ne sai quoi. As you just got to the door of that restaurant, it was just vibes. Just the energy, the feeling, the lighting, the style.
Michelle Rousseau: And when we socialize a lot, we call it liming.
Kerry Diamond: Liming?
Michelle Rousseau: Liming, L-I-M-I-N-G. Some people say L-Y-M-I-N-G. To lime is to hang out, it's a laid back Caribbean social thing. It's more from Trinidad. When you're doing that kind of socializing, you said, "Boy, the vibes were sweet". You just have to just lime a little and settle in.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah. So when the vibes hold you, they say, "Boy, the vibes did hold me last night," meaning you could not leave because the party or the people or the energy was just so good. It is used in a multitude of ways but it generally conveys the same thing.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah. Great energy and also great, enthusiastic, boisterous spirit. When you're not diminishing yourself or you're not- you're just being out there.
Suzanne Rousseau: Or you're really fully expressed.
Michelle Rousseau: Fully expressed and creative and buoyant and enthusiastic. That's to us what vibes is. So if a party has vibes, you walk in and you're like, "Whoa, what's this energy?" That's what it is.
Suzanne Rousseau: And I think it's also a place, so if the place has ... You can have good vibes and bad vibes. Yes, pure bad vibes in the place. So that means that there's negative energy, not positive. Good vibes means it's good vibrations. That's a very Rastafarian thing. So her spot was just vibes. Her energy, the energy, the style, everything was just like, "Mm."
Kerry Diamond: When people ask you two what you do, what's your answer?
Michelle Rousseau: We often say a lot of things. I don't know.
Suzanne Rousseau: I think we do a lot of things. I don't think either of us think of ourselves as chefs in the classic tradition. I certainly don't. I think we're home cooks turned restaurateurs and cook book authors. When we were in the fashion business for a time, so we'd design work and interior stuff. And we've done event planning at a very high level, and then we've done consulting. And then we've done production. How could I forget? I think we just consider ourselves people that like the creative tal- we have creative imaginations. And food is a very big part of that expression for us.
Michelle Rousseau: I would say we've often- if asked to define it, we call ourselves storytellers. And that we curate really great experiences for people, whether it's a client in terms of a corporate event or whether it would be one of our own events, or whether we're creating a restaurant space, or whether we were producing our TV show. It's really about telling stories, whether it's that story for the night, the experience of the night. That was the experience of last night, is that there was a story in the space. And there is the heritage of the space itself, there's her story, her personal story, her loves. Everything that was in the space had a purpose, and added or enhanced, never diminished the experience. And that, for us, is what we do when we create, so I think storytelling is a big part of that.
Kerry Diamond: Well we're curating a Brooklyn experience for you right now because you've got your Oatly cappuccinos in your reusable cups.
Suzanne Rousseau: Oh, the canteen.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah.
Suzanne Rousseau: We've heard so much about and he's gotten so much press for this amazing ...
Michelle Rousseau: It's really a great entry piece.
Kerry Diamond: Trying to save the environment.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, it's amazing.
Kerry Diamond: Got to keep those beaches and those oceans clean and beautiful. I'm sure that's a huge deal in Jamaica.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah. When we reopened our restaurant, from day one, we never had straws. We refused. We do have still some, because it's a members club and it's a sports club, so we have a few plastic water drinks because kids want that. But we don't serve that in the restaurant ourselves.
Suzanne Rousseau: And Jamaica is getting on the environmental train. It still has a ways to go, to getting big businesses very invested and involved in recycling. There are some that do it. We banned plastics, actually, as of January 1st. So in the supermarkets, all the bags ...
Michelle Rousseau: And straws.
Suzanne Rousseau: Straws. All of those plastic, what we could call s-
Kerry Diamond: Single use plastics, wow.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, we would call them scandal bags. They're these black-
Kerry Diamond: Scandal bags.
Michelle Rousseau: Yes.
Suzanne Rousseau: We're teaching you about ...
Michelle Rousseau: The black plastic bags, yes.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... the lingo of the Caribbean here. We call them a scandal bag, so ...
Michelle Rousseau: And originally named so because they were black, so that they hid the scandalous items that you put in your bag. So the black scandal bag is what it was called.
Suzanne Rousseau: So Caribbean people are very amusing.
Michelle Rousseau: Yes, very funny.
Suzanne Rousseau: They have a sense of humor about a lot of this.
Kerry Diamond: So you two are in New York, lucky us that you're here, and of course the sun did come out because you guys are here.
Michelle Rousseau: We brought it, we promised.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes, clearly.
Kerry Diamond: Absolutely.
Suzanne Rousseau: There's a turnaround from yesterday.
Kerry Diamond: So you're here to promote your brand new book, which is amazing.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: The book is so many things, it's hard to describe it. It's just not your typical cookbook. Can you tell us how you describe the book?
Suzanne Rousseau: I think Provisions is, for us, a bit of a love song to our great-grandmother and our female line and a celebration of the female lineage, and using food really as the vehicle to celebrate those women who cooked it and nurtured it for generations and have done it for so many families and children and other women but really haven't been celebrated. Because they really are the foundation of the cuisine of the region and I really don't think they have been discussed as such or explored as such.
Suzanne Rousseau: So that's love song, in a way, to that legacy in particular, starting with our own personal ancestor. I think it's also an exploration of history and a reframing of the cuisine, and really looking at it through the lens of what are the ingredients and why are they here and why do we eat them and how did they come to be.
Michelle Rousseau: I would say it's also about looking at the ingredients for the ingredients themselves. I think we have, in the Caribbean, fallen into, not a rut, but a habit of preparing things are certain way because it's the way it's traditionally eaten or it's the way everybody knows it. If you typically eat green bananas boiled, the thought of grilling it or roasting it or stewing it or currying it, even if they do that in other islands but it's not how we would do it in our island, doesn't necessarily occur to people.
Michelle Rousseau: So it's about expanding their awareness of working with an ingredient more from that perspective of the texture, the taste, the flavor profile, and the possibilities of the purity of just the ingredient itself. And I just don't know that that is, even though that's how they'd cooked a lot in the 1800s ... so someone who came over from Ireland who didn't have spuds would have said, "Oh, a yam is like a spud, so let's do a yam mash, not a mashed potato." I just think that we've moved away from that kind of experimentation in a very simple way.
Michelle Rousseau: And I also think it's about tracing the cuisine, not only from the perspective of the women but also from the perspective of that there needs to be a repurposing and a representation of women in food in a more traditional, mainstream way that is not happening, despite the fact that the islands earn the majority of their GDP from hospitality. The presence of women in the hospitality industry there is still much more looked at from a domestic perspective. They're not in the executive chef roles, they're not leading kitchens, and I think that's unfortunate because there is a big wage gap and there's a huge divide between how women in food are viewed and how men in traditional roles in food are viewed.
Kerry Diamond: It's a good segue into the great-grandmother you learned a lot about, doing all the research. Tell us about your great-grandmother.
Suzanne Rousseau: Her name is Martha Matilda Briggs. We discovered her. She's the mother of my father's mother, so she's on the paternal side. We heard about her in a folklorish sort of way some time maybe in our late teens into our 20s as this woman who made this fantastic patty, really had this very successful business, was this business owner. Long and short of basically some of those tales, didn't really take it very seriously or even explore it.
Suzanne Rousseau: In the course of the first cookbook, Caribbean Potluck, we did this family tree so I started to find all this information about her and all these records about her life in the archives of The Gleaner, which is a local newspaper. That began to have us really talk about, "Hold on a minute. We think we're here doing this by chance. Is it that we really are doing this by chance or is even our business and our life in this food business really the completion of a full circle and a cycle that we didn't even have the awareness of?"
Suzanne Rousseau: Because it's a funny thing. I think as women, the older you get the wiser you get. When you come into your wisdom, you start to look at life and your experiences as learnings and opportunities, but also as the legacy of the other women before you. And I think for the first time, maybe we had a different perspective of ourselves and she began to play this very omnipresent role in understanding ourselves in this bigger way. And we really delved into figuring out who we were through understanding who she was and who all these other ancestors that we had never taken the time to look at.
Suzanne Rousseau: Because the Caribbean is an interesting place because it's such a melange of different kinds of people from all walks of life. So on my mother's side of the family, her grandfather was a white Scotsman that made his way to Jamaica, was a planter that married a black Indian Jamaican woman, and that family has one lineage. Then we have some ancestors through Haitian French, and then we had ...
Michelle Rousseau: New Orleans.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... in New Orleans. So a lot of that is a big part of the culture where you have this big mix of black, white, Indian, Chinese. And so this was this discovery of, "Oh my goodness." Here was this woman in the early part of the 20th century, the 1930s, when women didn't even work outside of the home, who was famous for what she cooked and her restaurants and served some of the most powerful men of the day, was written about in the newspaper, placed ads in the paper, had court cases. She was pretty formidable.
Suzanne Rousseau: And yet, we had never taken the time to even- or nor had anybody else in the family. So we were always getting her narrative from the men because my father is one of three brothers. By the time we discovered this, my grandmother was gone, her daughter, and my aunt Kay was on her way out because she died fairly soon after that. So we decided to discover her and do as much as we could to find out what her story was and how did it connect to our own.
Michelle Rousseau: And I think they spoke a lot of her- this is my perspective of it. They spoke a lot of her from the context of the recipe. The patty was amazing. Her bun was amazing. Her this was amazing. But who she was as a human being, what she had to do to get where she did, how she managed to survive, and how this legacy, even though it's kind of present but not really present ... The legacy could easily have died had it not been for us delving into that story. The only reason it was not lost on me, the only reason that we were able to find anything about her, Was not just because of the fact that they spoke of this patty, but that she had the, excuse the French, balls to name the patty after herself, the Briggs Crisp Crust Patty.
Michelle Rousseau: Secondly, that she maintained her maiden name. When we looked back to the generation of our great-grandmothers outside of who they were as wives, and you maybe had the maiden name, there was no narrative, there was no conversation, there was no communication about who they were as people and where they came from and how they ended up in Jamaica from New Orleans or Haiti or Guadeloupe or Martinique or wherever they came from. And so, what she left was a trail of crumbs to follow, if we should so choose, that could recreate the timeline of her life. There's about a 20 year gap where it's blank. But I would say we were able to look at up until this period, 1918, she was, as listed on the birth certificates of the children, a domestic. She was a laundress. She worked for people. But then, 1929, she's a restaurant owner. So what happened between 1914 and 1929 ...
Suzanne Rousseau: It's fascinating.
Michelle Rousseau: ... I don't know. But I do know that when I go back to 1929 from 1975, she would have been in her 40s. And a black woman with seven children as a single mother who lived on her own, who ended up owning three houses on retirement road and leased out houses to people as a landowner, I'm like, "Okay, what happened? How did we get there?" That's fascinating.
Kerry Diamond: And like you said, taking the ads out in the newspaper.
Michelle Rousseau: Oh, absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: I loved seeing that in the book.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, yeah.
Suzanne Rousseau: So uncanny, her ads, but even that she was clearly a fighter. Because you saw where she was like, "Notice this person is no longer employed and working with me," with notices in the paper.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, this is great. So her first-
Suzanne Rousseau: And the cases that she was fighting for her defense of the restaurant.
Michelle Rousseau: So the first restaurant was the Royal Café and she sold it in whatever year. And then she put in a notice that said, "It should be noted that the business has been sold to Mrs. Amy Levy and I will not be responsible for any further debts. Signed, Martha Matilda Briggs."
Suzanne Rousseau: And you know when she said this thing, "Briggs Crisp Crust Patties will only be available at this location." She was very ebullient.
Michelle Rousseau: And then she said, "Any imposters will be prosecuted." So she clearly was worried about, obviously, losing her position but at the same time she was not going down without a fight. I would imagine there was resistance to her and to her existence.
Suzanne Rousseau: My uncle who is my father's brother, who is older than him, remembers her because he said himself and my older uncle who's now gone, Uncle Jack, would walk down from school to the restaurant and they said as you got to the door, she would say, "Look. My grandsons are here, get them two patty." Because he said she was a brute of a woman, so she seemed to have had this real imposing presence. So they remember her as this figure of some formidable space and took up this energy. So it was really interesting to hear them. But then, they also left the story unended. And so it's only when we go back and say, "So what happened here?"
Michelle Rousseau: Why is she not there?
Suzanne Rousseau: What happened to the restaurants or what happened to the buildings or what happened to the property? Who ...
Kerry Diamond: The menus, the recipes.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, who inherited that? Even the physical building, that's not in our family. What happened there? So I think there's just a big, there's a cloudy area there for the clarity of what really went down. But I do know that Normal Washington Manley, who was Jamaica's first premier who's one of our national heroes, defended her in a court case. Because they tried to revoke her tavern-
Michelle Rousseau: That's also in the paper, by the way.
Kerry Diamond: This is like its own book, though. It's incredible.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah. They tried to revoke her tavern license because they said that various things and-
Michelle Rousseau: I think the old school tavern license ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Tavern license.
Michelle Rousseau: ... is also a really great thing.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah. And then-
Michelle Rousseau: She was running a tavern.
Suzanne Rousseau: She was running a tavern. And then, because there was presence of loose ladies on the street ...
Kerry Diamond: Uh-oh.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, right? But this man who was a barrister, Jamaica's ...
Michelle Rousseau: Extremely revered.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... came in and defended her and also all of the barristers of the day came in and testified on her behalf. They said, "We dine in her establishment daily and we have never seen the presence of loose ladies. And oftentimes I've been at work until up to 7 PM at night and I hear no noise coming from the street." And so they testified to her character and her decency, and that was like, "Whoa," for us. We were thinking, "Wow, that's incredible." That she not only had this successful business but she had the respect of the establishment.
Kerry Diamond: But she also had an ice cram parlor, too.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes, yes.
Kerry Diamond: She was so ahead of her time.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah. And then when we looked at the ads, we thought she just sold patties. It was baked black crabs, cakes, ice cream. So it seemed that it was a restaurant, one aspect of which were the patties. Which would have been eaten in a very different way than we would eat them now as this very commercial, quick thing. I would imagine they were probably more meaty. They say they even looked different, shape-wise.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, yeah. And then the opening ad is, "Open all night. Cold beers, ice cream, Briggs Crisp Crust Patties." I'm like, "I'll do that today and that would be a hit."
Kerry Diamond: I know.
Suzanne Rousseau: It would be crazy, yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. You found some of the ice cream flavors, right?
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah. From what they have told me, I'd know what they were and I think they were the classic Jamaican phrases.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, they remember them. And because, of course, the Rousseau family, as in the male, were renowned for their love of ice cream. My Uncle Jack would eat a quart at a time. So they'd tell us things, like there used to be prune ice cream.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah.
Michelle Rousseau: That was a flavor. A big, big flavor that they all grew up loving.
Suzanne Rousseau: And then rum and raisin.
Michelle Rousseau: And in Jamaica ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Grape nut.
Michelle Rousseau: ... grape nut ice cream is a huge deal. Do you know this? Grape nut, the cereal?
Kerry Diamond: I did not know that. I know Grape Nuts cereal.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes, they make it with the grape nut cereal.
Michelle Rousseau: Ah, well. Grape nut, with the grape nuts in there, is a huge thing in Jamaica.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes.
Michelle Rousseau: Why, we don't know.
Suzanne Rousseau: Rum and raisin is a big deal. Stout, so ice cream that's stout flavored like Guinness ...
Michelle Rousseau: She had double stout.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... is a huge thing in Jamaica. But my dad and my uncle will tell you prune was like, "Wow. Prune ice cream." Guava, mango, all the fruits that we have, sweetsop. Soursop ice cream is amazing.
Michelle Rousseau: Sweetsop was a big thing. They said she always made that.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah. Soursop ice cream is incredible. Guava ice cream, too.
Kerry Diamond: Now you have your own place.
Michelle Rousseau: Yes we do.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes we do.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us a little bit about ...
Michelle Rousseau: It's called Summerhouse. It's in, ironically, a 100 year old member's club called the Liguanea Club ...
Suzanne Rousseau: In the heart of Kingston.
Michelle Rousseau: ... in the heart of Kingston. The location itself is very storied, in that it was ... So the opening scene of Dr. No where they killed Strangways was filmed in that club.
Suzanne Rousseau: Was filmed at the Liguanea Club.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, wild.
Michelle Rousseau: It's now more of an athletics sports club. Our restaurant is in a space that's open to the public. It has its own history but what we wanted to do there was bring a sense of legacy. We call what we do there modern heritage dining. So it really is a nod to our personal heritage and the heritage of the Caribbean but the food, like in the book, is modern. We're committed to, even though we don't speak about that a lot, to 80% local. So most of the meats, all of the meats and the main courses that we have on our menu, are local meats. If something isn't available, we just sometimes don't use it. People tend to come and ask for things, like, "Do you have mussels or do you have this?" Those types of things are never really are on our menu. If a customer is doing a special event and they request it, we'll work with that. But we really try to keep as authentic and as local and as seasonal as we can.
Kerry Diamond: So you said it's a member's club, but if I come can you get me in? Can the Bombe Squad come see?
Michelle Rousseau: Yes, you can, absolutely.
Suzanne Rousseau: Bombesquad, any woman can come see us there.
Kerry Diamond: Okay, good.
Suzanne Rousseau: It was a member's club and still is, in that I think membership is to the sports facilities.
Michelle Rousseau: Right.
Suzanne Rousseau: But the restaurant is open to the public.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah. So the hospitality facilities are open to the public. They have some rooms and you can stay there. It's a hotel.
Suzanne Rousseau: And it also has a hotel and it's about 30 rooms.
Michelle Rousseau: Banquet rooms and things like that.
Kerry Diamond: So Bombesquad, if you're going to Jamaica ...
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: ... you know where you have to eat. Tell us a few of the signature Rousseau sister things that are on the menu.
Michelle Rousseau: Oh, the callaloo dip on our bar menu ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes, it's in our first book and it's so ...
Michelle Rousseau: ... is a huge signature hit that everybody has loved for years. I would say that's one thing.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us what callaloo is.
Suzanne Rousseau: Every island has ... again, complexities of island life. Every island has a version ...
Michelle Rousseau: Of callaloo.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... of callaloo, but it's not the same in any island. So in some islands, it's a stew. You have crab and callaloo in St Lucia. In Jamaica, we use the amaranth leaf. In Trinidad, it's the dasheen bush. So Trinidadian callaloo also has okra and ...
Michelle Rousseau: Coconut milk.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... coconut milk and ...
Michelle Rousseau: They'll cook it with pumpkin in there.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... pig's tail, pumpkin, and they may puree it a bit. Our callaloo is just the shredded amaranth, kind of chiffonade, salty ...
Michelle Rousseau: It's a lot thicker and a lot denser and a little bit more chalky.
Suzanne Rousseau: Right. And so every island will have a version. We have a soup made with callaloo in Jamaica called pepperpot.
Michelle Rousseau: Pepperpot.
Suzanne Rousseau: But pepperpot from Guyana is a stew that's made with cassareep, which is a completely different thing.
Michelle Rousseau: So there are two types of pepperpot.
Suzanne Rousseau: All of that is callaloo. Callaloo, to us, is just a green.
Michelle Rousseau: It's a leafy green like kale, like spinach, and it's eaten in many islands. In Jamaica, we eat it. It's very typically a breakfast dish, eaten with ackee and bananas or boiled banana and dumpling and food or with salt fish and it can be steamed and cooked with salt fish. It's also sometimes served in a gratin with cheese and stuff as a vegetable with dinner.
Suzanne Rousseau: Side.
Michelle Rousseau: In Trinidad, it's a little bit different. It's cooked more sort of stewish.
Suzanne Rousseau: Stewish, soupy.
Michelle Rousseau: And you'd almost have it on its own or as a complement to a meat and other things. But every island has their version.
Suzanne Rousseau: Right. So our- the dip, it's almost like an artichoke dip.
Michelle Rousseau: It's a Caribbean version of ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Caribbean version of something like that.
Michelle Rousseau: It's cheesy and hot ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Cheesy and spicy.
Michelle Rousseau: ... and then we do it with a crostini and it's very, very nice.
Suzanne Rousseau: Or with plantain chips.
Kerry Diamond: What else?
Suzanne Rousseau: The gnocchi.
Michelle Rousseau: The sweet potato gnocchi on the dinner menu.
Suzanne Rousseau: That's from Provisions.
Michelle Rousseau: That's from Provisions. It's sweet potato and pumpkin. It's very light. We do it with a mixed herb pesto and a garlic confit.
Suzanne Rousseau: And some smashed potatoes.
Michelle Rousseau: And some smashed tomatoes, cherry tomatoes.
Suzanne Rousseau: And pesto.
Michelle Rousseau: And Scotch bonnet oil, so that's very nice. I would say the dinner menu has what we call ...
Suzanne Rousseau: We tend to have different things.
Michelle Rousseau: We have a West Indian mezze and an East Indian mezze. The West Indian mezze is very typical West Indian item. So we have pickled herring that we flame in rum in an oven, and then we add some fresh cilantro and olive oil and shredded carrots and onions, fresh. That's a tart dried fish pickle that we ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Which is very typical of the region as well.
Michelle Rousseau: And we serve that with a karydaki and some plantain chips. And then the East Indian mezze is a sada roti, which is a Guyanese roti, it's a flatbread. And then we do a pumpkin choka, a baigan choka, which is eggplant choka, tomato choka, and a coconut choka with that with fresh chutney.
Suzanne Rousseau: So there are chutneys and sauces and salsas, along the lines of an Arabic mezze platter.
Michelle Rousseau: But with our Caribbean flavors. Those are some signature dishes. Lunch, what do you think is big at lunch?
Suzanne Rousseau: Well, the pumpkin soup, the pumpkin bisque.
Michelle Rousseau: Oh, the Blue Mountain Burger.
Suzanne Rousseau: And the Blue Mountain Burger is amazing.
Michelle Rousseau: We have a burger, it's slightly crusted with coffee and it has a Blue Mountain Coffee sauce.
Kerry Diamond: It's crusted with coffee..
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, so we do a spice rub with a little coffee, sear that, cast iron cooking, and then we have caramelized onions and a Blue Mountain barbecue sauce. It's very good.
Suzanne Rousseau: Also I would say on the lunch menu is a curry goat, our curry goat from Potluck which is our take on curry goat. Obviously curry goat is a fairly popular and famous thing in Jamaica. We do a slightly more refined version and we have white rum in there, a little bit of coconut milk, and then we top it with fresh nuts, coconut, a little bit of ...
Michelle Rousseau: And fresh fruits also.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... fresh mango. Yeah, it's delicious.
Michelle Rousseau: With a coconut basmati rice on the side.
Kerry Diamond: I'm dying. You two are killing me.
Suzanne Rousseau: You have to come now.
Kerry Diamond: July is not that far away.
Suzanne Rousseau: No, it's not.
Jess Zeidman: Hi everybody, it's Jess. Time for a little housekeeping. Have you listened to our Future of Food miniseries yet? Our Seattle and Portland episodes are now live, so check them out wherever you get your podcasts. Also, if you're going to be in Charleston next week for the Charleston Wine and Food Festival, get a ticket for Namaste Bubbly, a special event taking place on Sunday, March 10th. Kerry will be there, along with some of our favorite pastry pros like Cynthia Wong and Angela Garbacz. You can buy your ticket at charlestonwineandfood.com.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you, Jess. Let's get to my conversation with the Rousseau sisters. So you both mentioned ackee also, which comes up in a few different recipes in the cookbook.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Ackee, you can find now in America.
Michelle Rousseau: Yes. You get the tin version, which of course is the inferior version to all of us natives. Ackee, we love ackee and it's something that we have all grown up eating in Jamaica and certainly some of the other islands. And we love it because I think it's just such a versatile and unique ingredient.
Suzanne Rousseau: If you asked for my favorite Jamaican dish, it would be ackee. Ackee and salt fish or ackee with bacon with plantain and pear.
Michelle Rousseau: It's our typical breakfast. It's the breakfast that everyone eats Sunday morning. Typical breakfast would be ackee and sour fish, Johnny cakes, roast breadfruit ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Callaloo, plantain.
Michelle Rousseau: ... callaloo, plantain, and pear. The best breakfast or brunch or lunch or dinner. I don't care, I'd eat it anytime.
Kerry Diamond: So you said avocado and you said pear. Give us a lesson about ...
Michelle Rousseau: I say avocado because the people understand.
Suzanne Rousseau: Michelle is saying it to make sure that the Amer- so that the foreigners understand what she's talking about.
Michelle Rousseau: Yes, I've gotten used to making sure. But in Jamaica, it's called pear. We call it pear. Every island has, like everything else, a different way of saying it. So Trinidad, it's zaboca. In Jamaica, a pear is just avocado. So if you said avocado, people would know what you're talking about but we don't refer to it like that. And there are different kinds and the one that we love the most is a Simmonds pear, which is ... can't describe it.
Suzanne Rousseau: Like everything in the Caribbean, the strain and the particular breed ... like mangoes, there's a massive debate about the best strain of mango.
Michelle Rousseau: You need to come to Jamaica during mango season ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Which is in July.
Michelle Rousseau: ... so we can do Mango 101.
Suzanne Rousseau: There's just so many different kinds of breadfruit, so many different kinds of avocado, and mango it's the same. So there are high class, middle class.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, high brow mango and then common mango.
Suzanne Rousseau: Low class versions.
Kerry Diamond: I'm sure you two are first class all the way.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, our favorite mangoes are always the high brow mangoes, but we'll eat them- it will be anyone.
Suzanne Rousseau: Everyone believes who likes what type and who wants to eat what.
Michelle Rousseau: But it's determined, the popularity is determined based on the flavor of the flesh and the nature of the flesh, the sweetness and the hairiness.
Suzanne Rousseau: And the person eating it. Like people who like hairy mangoes and don't mind getting all the hair in their teeth ...
Michelle Rousseau: Like East India.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... we'll say, "Oh, no, no. It's East Indian for me because I don't care." Whereas I love- a Bombay mango to us is the greatest thing in life.
Michelle Rousseau: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kerry Diamond: There's still a lot more to talk about regarding the book, though.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yes, for sure.
Kerry Diamond: The fact that the book is vegetarian, that you almost don't even notice as you flip through. Why did you feel the need to make it a vegetarian book?
Michelle Rousseau: I think we didn't have a fixed idea that it should be vegetarian. I think we felt it was ingredient-focused and that the vegetables and provisions, i.e. the starches of the region that had never really played the role of star, were to be the stars of the show and the proteins to be the secondary focus. And in keeping with, we felt, what was the actual, real, true diet that would have been consumed for many generations, it would have been primarily- the diet would have been made up, particularly for slaves, from a variety of vegetables and ground provisions mixed in with small amounts of salted proteins, usually, in the form of salted fish or salted meat or pork or so.
Michelle Rousseau: And so we were going to only initially have those salted proteins because really anything in the book can be put with any kind of protein you want and makes a beautiful balance. And I think our publishers felt that it was a more compelling story and a very different face of the cuisine, because I think I many ways it's considered an unhealthy cuisine and very gravy driven or brown, as opposed to really a diverse, colorful, very nutritious, extremely flavorful, dynamic cuisine. And so it really gave us the opportunity to really showcase that as well.
Suzanne Rousseau: And I think while a lot of this is a big part of the food now, typically what you get featured and what people speak about a lot is the curry goat, the oxtail, the jerk chicken, the jerk pork, so a lot of the meats. And while that is a part of the diet, the typical slave diet was largely built around produce. And ultimately, I think, I don't know if this is accurate, but I think they were given one pound of salted fish a week per person. So that's seven days, that's less than two ounces a day.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, I read that in the book.
Suzanne Rousseau: So the end of the day, it would have been small amounts of protein. How did the diet evolve to be these one pot dishes and simple flame roasted starches was that you would take ... let's say you had a hog. The hog would be slaughtered, they would sell the meat at the market. But the ears, the tail, the tongue ...
Michelle Rousseau: The feet would be pickled or cured, and then you'd get things like souse in Trinidad, which is a pickled foot. Or you would get pig's tail, which is then salted and cured and put into a stew ...
Suzanne Rousseau: For flavor.
Michelle Rousseau: ... to give you the flavor and the layers of proteins. You get salted beef, the tripe. Those types of cheaper foods that were not palatable in the more mainstream. So the better quality items would have been traded or sold, and then they would have cured their own meat. So whether it's corned beef, corned pork, ham hock, there's something in Jamaica called cow cod soup, that's a cowskin soup.
Suzanne Rousseau: Tongue.
Michelle Rousseau: So a lot of that type of cuisine evolved around, you're going to get a little piece of salted fish and you're going to get a big piece of yam, and a little bit of coconut oil, which would have been made from the coconuts that are in your backyard. And that was how the diet was, is common.
Suzanne Rousseau: And it was extremely simple and extremely rustic. So typically, even if you were- even today, how salt fish would be cooked in the morning or as a lunchtime would be sauteed up with oil, onion, garlic, scallion, tomatoes, a lot of Scotch bonnet, and then just put over a plate of boiled bananas or ...
Michelle Rousseau: Boiled yam.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... boiled yam or boiled sweet potato or boiled green bananas or some dumpling. So it's really the balance and the ratio is two-thirds to one-third. And that would have been what would of course filled you up, but given you sustenance, given you energy to work long hours, and that's still very much how it's consumed now.
Michelle Rousseau: And that's why the food are stews. Oxtail, bony goat, Caribbean curry goat has potato and carrots and all of that stuff in it, and that's really just about stretching the meat, making it flavorful, and also tenderizing it. Cheaper forms of meat.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, cooking it for long periods of time to make it accessible and palatable to eat, because it was not high quality protein.
Kerry Diamond: When you talk about your legacy and the past, you didn't just stop at your family. You took it all the way back to the slaves, to the sugar plantations.
Michelle Rousseau: We did a lot of research. We really wanted to understand the context of the food in the context of a woman like our great-grandmother. How did she exist? What brought her into being? And the irony of all of that, which I don't know if this is a documented truth but it's a truth we took away from it, is that she existed because she was outside of the boundaries of polite society. She existed because she was the descendant of a generation of women who learned by farming their own provision grounds, that they could trade that produce at markets. And then from that, they could gain some sort of financial independence, they could buy trinkets for themselves, they could support their family.
Michelle Rousseau: At the end of the day, I think we mentioned this yesterday, while women didn't even have the right to marriage and couldn't control their own children or own their own children, they owned what they could produce in their provision grounds.
Kerry Diamond: I think you put it in stronger terms yesterday. You said their children could be bought and sold.
Michelle Rousseau: Bought and sold, yeah. And yet, whatever they reaped and sowed in their provision grounds, they owned and they could sell and they could trade and they could buy things with. And so, what I think is that if you were of mainstream, traditional, polite, colonial society, could you have stepped outside of the home and started a business and kept your maiden name and bought houses and traded and fought for your tavern license in 1920 Jamaica? Probably not.
Suzanne Rousseau: I think what was very clear to us, as an overarching theme in the work, was that women of the region, our grandmother being one, their success is a function of inventiveness and their success is a function of taking circumstances that were often difficult, where they were very mitigated, where they were disempowered, and somehow using their strength of will but innovativeness, inventiveness, and just the desire to survive to make things work for them in a way that is really quite not only remarkable but is humbling because it has sustained and nurtured so many generations. And when you think of just how hard their lives would have been, how little space and time they would have had to even look after themselves, much less the multitude of others, and how many people they would have had to feed from these very basic fare.
Suzanne Rousseau: It was just this very, very profound awareness of how big a legacy that was and how important it was to really take it really all the way back to the time that this would have been the case but still, in many ways, continues to be the case. We're a third world country, many parts of the region are or all of them are, and you have a lot of poverty. So there are a lot of women that continue to make due on very menial jobs as domestics, earning minimum wage, but still continue to do exactly that to this day. So there is a big, wide gap in the society of the rich and the poor.
Suzanne Rousseau: So it's also honoring those women who have even worked in homes across the island at every level of society. Because I think they are as vital a part of the story of the cuisine of our region as all of the big people who write cookbooks and get renowned for it or anything else. And so I think it was really, really compelling for us to make that be very clear.
Kerry Diamond: We also talked about when is Caribbean cuisine going to have its moment, but then the term Caribbean cuisine isn't really a cuisine. It's made up of so many different islands. Do you want to explai- you have the term Caribbean cuisine in the subtitle.
Michelle Rousseau: Right. I think it's what contextually people outside of the region know as our cuisine. There are a lot of geopolitical reasons that define the regions of the Caribbean. There's CARICOM, there's the British West Indies, there's the French West Indies. It's complex in that we're not all like how the EU is, one community.
Kerry Diamond: You two, I think we mentioned at the top of the show, are very intuitive. In the course of researching your relatives, they actually visited you in your dreams.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, definitely. Both of us. That's why I say this is like a soul work for us because independent of each other and separate to each other and different people for each of us, we had visitations from Marta Matilda herself- Michelle channeled her ...
Michelle Rousseau: She's very vocal.
Suzanne Rousseau: ... and I remember having her in a dream and having the strong sense of her presence, even though I didn't know her. And then her daughter, Enid, who was my grandmother and I was very, very close to her, she came to me in a way that I had never, ever seen her and she just had something that she wanted me to do or she was trying to give us a message and then she was there in the house, then she came with me in the car, then Michelle had joined us.
Suzanne Rousseau: And I remember one morning, I was driving alone to this shoot and it was 4:30 in the morning and it was dark and very, very cool, and I just had this overwhelming sense of her presence in the car with me. And what was most present to me was an understanding of her life and understanding of all that she had suffered in her life and all that she had lost. Because my father's father would have died when he was fairly young, like 17. So she really would have been alone until her death.
Suzanne Rousseau: And it had never occurred to me that that aloneness would have been extremely challenging and that she would have suffered great challenge in overcoming that but then continuing to live on. And this deep just awareness of her and her life as a single woman who would have had to raise children and make do in the world. And I remember I was just weeping. I was driving, weeping, and going, "My God," and it was this understanding of so much of her as it connected to my own life, because I had been divorced by then. And then Michelle dreamt ... had other experiences.
Michelle Rousseau: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I dreamt of Martha Matilda and it was almost like she was telling me where to look to find stuff. All the details I'm telling you about, the court cases and that, that came to light subsequent to what I call a visitation or a channeling one night where, when I woke up the next morning, I just opened my computer and I started to search the archives of the newspapers. For some reason, I don't know how, I found the name of her original restaurant, which was the Royal Café, and I had never been given that before.
Michelle Rousseau: So I was searching for the wrong things. Once that- that just opened the floodgates. And once that happened, they just started to come to me. And I think, in many ways, the sense that I got of her was that our rules in bringing her her experience and her life to light were different, that Suzanne was there to express and manifest and heal the wounds from her personal life, being a single mother, raising children on her own, having to deal with those challenges. Mine was to correct the career side and really find and retell the story of what she was unable to accomplish in her lifetime as a businesswoman.
Suzanne Rousseau: The message was, "You are here to redeem their joy." That was the work for us. Their joy, to reclaim the power that they didn't have, to put voice to them and speak their names, and to make the world know who they were in ways that they didn't have. That's when it was the most powerful thing. I recorded the message, because she called me the morning and I lay in the bed and I remember that my eyes were streaming with tears. I think for us, it's really so much bigger than us. This work is really not- we are just here to make it, bring it to life, and I think we're very clear about that.
Kerry Diamond: That's why Provisions is such a remarkable book. All right, so I do need to let you go at some point but we are going to do a little speed round.
Suzanne Rousseau: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michelle Rousseau: No pressure.
Kerry Diamond: All right. Favorite kitchen utensil.
Suzanne Rousseau: A good paring knife.
Kerry Diamond: Michelle?
Michelle Rousseau: A whisk.
Kerry Diamond: Favorite ingredient to cook with.
Suzanne Rousseau: Garlic and Scotch bonnet.
Michelle Rousseau: Olive oil, garlic, Scotch bonnet.
Kerry Diamond: Most treasured cookbook.
Michelle Rousseau: I would go for a cookbook we had at university that would have been the in- whenever we had dinner parties, it was an old Jamaican cookbook with old, traditional Jamaican recipes. I'm trying to remember. Enid Donaldson is one of them.
Suzanne Rousseau: Norma Benghiat.
Michelle Rousseau: Norma Benghiat. And we would use this to cook our home food and entertain our guests, and so that carries a lot of nostalgia for me.
Suzanne Rousseau: I'm still going to go with the Silver Palate.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. Song that makes you smile.
Suzanne Rousseau: I still got to go for my soca because I'm a Trini girl at heart, too. I love the new Kes song. There are two of them, "Savannah Grass" and "Love It."
Michelle Rousseau: I actually thought back on that and a song that I always smile to everyday if I play it is Bill Withers, "Lovely Day."
Kerry Diamond: Dream destination.
Suzanne Rousseau: I would love to travel widely in Africa. I really want to go to so many different parts. I would say multiple places in Africa, but I really want to go to Ethiopia. I really want to go to South Africa, I haven't been yet. Kenya, among other places. Côte d'Ivoire with our friend Nadeen.
Michelle Rousseau: I love France and I could go back over and over and over to France. South of France, Paris, wherever. Even though there are many places I want to go to, I still could go there every year, too.
Kerry Diamond: We always ask, if you had to be stuck on a desert island with any food celebrity, who would it be? But because you're already on a beautiful island, we're changing it to, if you had to be trapped in a snowy New York weekend with any food celebrity, who would it be?
Suzanne Rousseau: Michelle, you go first.
Michelle Rousseau: Angie Mar, just because she looks like she knows how to enjoy a snowy night in New York City with ...
Suzanne Rousseau: I would agree.
Michelle Rousseau: ... really great champagne ...
Suzanne Rousseau: Especially after last night.
Michelle Rousseau: ... good music. So I'm sticking with that.
Suzanne Rousseau: I had said Éric Ripert and I still would say that because, a, he's good-looking. Yes, Éric, you are. And he's a classic and he just looks like he has it together. So I'd stick with my answer, too.
Kerry Diamond: He's a nice guy. You two really are amazing. I am so happy that you're back in New York and we got to hang out a little bit.
Michelle Rousseau: Oh, for sure.
Kerry Diamond: I honestly am going to try to get my butt to Jamaica this year.
Suzanne Rousseau: Please do.
Michelle Rousseau: Oh, you're definitely coming this year.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. I really have no excuse. It's not that far away.
Michelle Rousseau: We want you to come. We would love to have you. We would love to have you.
Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. Thanks for all the amazing stuff you put out into the universe and thank you for this beautiful book that you put out there. Everybody needs to check out Provisions and cook from it.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.
Suzanne Rousseau: Thank you so much. It's really an honor and a pleasure for us. Everything Cherry Bombe for us is great.
Kerry Diamond: And you two might be at Jubilee, I forgot.
Michelle Rousseau: Yeah.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah.
Michelle Rousseau: Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: So if you want some Rousseau sister IRL, in real life, get your tickets, people.
Michelle Rousseau: We'll bring the soca.
Suzanne Rousseau: Yeah, we'll bring the music, the playlist, for you.
Michelle Rousseau: Pure vibes.
Suzanne Rousseau: Pure vibes.
Kerry Diamond: Thanks.
Suzanne Rousseau: Thank you so much.
Michelle Rousseau: Thank you.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau for speaking with me about their wonderful new book, Provisions, out now. I can't way to see them at Jubilee next month. Thank you to Handsome Brook Farm for supporting this season of Radio Cherry Bombe. For more, visit handsomebrookfarm.com. Radio Cherry Bombe's associate producer is the one and only Jess Zeidman and our theme song is by the band Tralala. Radio Cherry Bombe is a joint production of Cherry Bombe Magazine and the Heritage Radio Network. Thanks for listening, everybody. You're the bomb.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Chelsea Kravitz: Hi. I'm Chelsea Kravitz. I'm a baker. Some know me as the bakery lady. And do you want to know who I think is the bomb? Emily Nijad is a cake artist and dessert designer and the founder of Bon Vivant Cakes and Maven Chicago. She makes the most incredibly beautiful cakes and uses her platform to talk about important issues like politics and being a little more kind to ourselves. Emily, you're the bomb.